EAGAN, Minn. – Minnesota has faced a number of talented quarterbacks so far this season, and things don't get any easier this week.
The Vikings are slated to play the Chargers in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon, where they'll need to contend with 2020 NFL Rookie of the Year (The Associated Press) Justin Herbert.
Drafted No. 6 overall by the Chargers, Herbert impressed in Year 1 and has continued that trend into his sophomore season.
He's even drawing comparisons to a quarterback drafted five years before Herbert was born. Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson was asked Wednesday about the challenges of playing Herbert.
"He's got a strong arm; he can make all the throws. He's a big kid, and for a big guy, he can move, too. I think that's the thing that really kind of surprised me," Patterson said of the 6-foot-6 Herbert, who weighs in at 238 pounds. "So we have to do a good job of making him feel us up front. The d-line has to do a good job of making him feel our presence, of getting him off the spot, make him uncomfortable. If he can sit back there in the rocking chair, we're going to have a long day – because he can make every single throw.
"There's not a part of the field that he cannot get the ball to. Honestly, he kind of reminds me of a young Drew Bledsoe," Patterson added. "When I see him in his uniform and I see him throw the ball, it reminds me of Drew. Drew couldn't run like [Justin] can, but just his body type, his mannerisms, the way he throws the ball – it reminds me of Drew."
Patterson overlapped with Bledsoe in New England in 1997, when he oversaw the Patriots defensive line – and as he readies the Vikings defense for Herbert, he recognizes those similarities.
Last season, Herbert assumed the role with the Chargers that had long been held by Philip Rivers. He started all 15 games he played and finished his rookie campaign 396-of-595 for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating was 98.3.
Through eight games this year, he's on track for comparable production. Entering Sunday's game, he is 211-of-319 passing for 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 98.9.
"Herbert has a big, strong arm. He throws the ball well," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.
"He's a really good athlete, so he scrambles well. He scrambled for two touchdowns in the red zone, one against Cleveland," Zimmer later added. "They do a lot of max protection with him, get the ball to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the other side, typically. They've got Jared Cook at the tight end spot, another athletic guy. He does a nice job reading coverages, going where he needs to go. Looks like he's playing with a lot of confidence and smarts. The teams that have pressured him haven't done great against him."
This will be the Vikings first time going against Herbert, and they're doing so coming off a heartbreaking – and exhausting – overtime loss at Baltimore.
Minnesota's defense is recovering from a game in which the Ravens offense was on the field for 98 snaps (89 official plays), and it's no secret that recovery will be an emphasis this week. So too, though, will be the former Oregon standout.
View photos of Vikings players from practice on Nov. 10 at the TCO Performance Center.
Patterson emphasized Herbert's ability to flip the field position and get the ball to any one of the targets Zimmer mentioned.
"The quarterback can make explosive plays," he said of Herbert.
"This kid's got a bright future," Patterson said. "I mean, he looks like an NFL quarterback looked all the time when I first came into this league. He looks like one of those guys."